Sept. 23, 2001: How long would Brady have toiled behind Drew Bledsoe as the Patriots’ backup quarterback if Jets linebacker Mo Lewis hadn’t cracked Bledsoe with a violent shoulder-to-shoulder hit along the sideline late in the teams’ Week 2 meeting? Brady had thrown just three passes in the pros up until that point, and after Bledsoe tried and failed to return to action, the lightly regarded, inexperienced second-year QB out of Michigan was left to play out the final minutes of a 10–3 Patriots loss.

As the severity of Bledsoe’s injury became clear, Brady shepherded the Patriots to an 11–3 record over the rest of the regular season. Bledsoe never got his job back, aside from a heroic relief performance in the AFC Championship Game later that year. He split five more seasons between the Bills and Cowboys as Brady entrenched himself as a New England icon.

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